Nav: Home

HKU fossil imaging helps push back feather origins by 70 million years

December 18, 2018

In a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, an international team led by Professor Baoyu Jiang of Nanjing University and including Dr Michael Pittman of the Department of Earth Sciences, the University of Hong Kong, shows that pterosaurs had at least four types of feathers in common with their close relatives the dinosaurs, pushing back the origin of feathers by some 70 million years.

Pterosaurs and dinosaurs are closely related reptiles that lived from about 230 to 66 million years ago. Reptiles are generally known for their scales, but pterosaurs evolved a furry covering -- often called 'pycnofibres' -- that was presumed to be fundamentally different from the feathers of birds and other dinosaurs, until now. The new study shows that pterosaurs had at least four types of feathers: (1) simple filaments ('hairs'), (2) bundles of filaments, (3) filaments with a tuft halfway down and (4) down feathers. These four feather types are known from two major dinosaur groups -- the plant-eating ornithischians and the theropods, which include living birds.

Dr Pittman who leads the HKU's Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory said: "These exceptional pterosaur specimens were imaged by myself and Tom Kaye of the Foundation for Scientific Advancement using Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence, a technique we co-developed. The LSF images vividly revealed the form of the wing membrane, demonstrating that its generally ginger-coloured feathers were preserved in place."

Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences added: "We ran some evolutionary analyses and they showed clearly that the pterosaur pycnofibres are feathers, just like those seen in modern birds and across various dinosaur groups."

Despite careful searching, the team was unable to find any anatomical evidence that the four pycnofibre types identified were in any way different from the feathers of dinosaurs, including those of birds. Thus, they came to the conclusion that they must share an evolutionary origin with dinosaurs around 250 million years ago.
-end-
The paper:

'Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching' by Z. Yang, B. Jiang, M. McNamara, S. Kearns, M. Pittman, T. Kaye, P. Orr, X. Xu and M. Benton in Nature Ecology and Evolution

Link of journal article: https://go.nature.com/2UOwqzj

The University of Hong Kong

Related Dinosaurs Articles:

Volcanic eruptions triggered dawn of the dinosaurs
Huge pulses of volcanic activity are likely to have played a key role in triggering the end Triassic mass extinction, which set the scene for the rise and age of the dinosaurs, new Oxford University research has found.
Dinosaurs: Juvenile, adult or senior?
How old were the oldest dinosaurs? This question remains largely unanswered.
How the darkness and the cold killed the dinosaurs
66 million years ago, the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs started the ascent of the mammals, ultimately resulting in humankind's reign on Earth.
These dinosaurs lost their teeth as they grew up
By comparing the fossilized remains of 13 ceratosaurian theropod dinosaurs known as Limusaurus inextricabilis collected from the Upper Jurassic Shishugou Formation of northwestern China, researchers have been able to reconstruct the dinosaur's growth and development from a young hatchling of less than a year to the age of 10.
Dinosaurs' rise was 'more gradual,' new fossil evidence suggests
Researchers have discovered two small dinosaurs together with a lagerpetid, a group of animals that are recognized as precursors of dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs of a feather flock and die together?
In the paleontology popularity contest, studying the social life of dinosaurs is on the rise.
Unique skin impressions of the last dinosaurs discovered in Barcelona
Researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in collaboration with the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont, have discovered in Vallcebre an impression fossil with the surface of the skin of a dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous, a period right before their extinction.
What dinosaurs' color patterns say about their lives
After reconstructing the color patterns of a well-preserved dinosaur from China, researchers have found that the long-lost species called Psittacosaurus was light on its underside and darker on top.
The success of the plant-eating dinosaurs
Plant-eating dinosaurs had several bursts of evolution, and these were all kicked off by innovations in their teeth and jaws, new research has found.
Soot may have killed off the dinosaurs and ammonites
A new hypothesis on the extinction of dinosaurs and ammonites at the end of the Cretaceous Period has been proposed by a research team from Tohoku University and the Japan Meteorological Agency's Meteorological Research Institute.

Related Dinosaurs Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...